The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive have shown that of the 28.5 million days lost to work-related illness in 2009/10, around one-third were directly attributable to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Affecting twice as many people as stress, there are more than 200 musculoskeletal conditions affecting workers and they cost society around £7.4 billion per year, according to a report from The Work Foundation. That is not far off the entire cost of hosting the London Olympics in 2012.
The end of the default retirement age in October 2011 could potentially add to the number of cases of MSDs.
Initiatives funded by the UK Government and the European Union could help healthcare professionals to develop innovative solutions to MSDs.
The Jolly Back Chair was invented by Lorna Taylor, a physiotherapist. She was struck by the problem of low working-heights when teachers at her children’s school complained of back problems.
“By sitting on child-size chairs, adults are forcing their knees into a position where they are higher than their hips,” says Taylor. “This pushes their pelvis backwards, forcing their spine into a damaging shape, which can lead to problems with slipped discs and sciatica. Teachers may also strain their neck muscles in order to maintain eye contact with children, and are also repeatedly twisting at the waist as they turn to address individuals, overstretching their spine and causing hip compression.”
The chair was marketed with funding from the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet in Nottingham – one of four sector-specific organisations set up by the East Midlands Development Agency. About 230 chairs have been sold to date.
Musculoskeletal conditions cost society around £7.4 billion per year.”
Another physiotherapist, Linda Darwent, developed a product called the ErgoKneeler with funding from iNet.
“There’s been a lot of research into the risks of early onset osteoarthritis in people who need to kneel or squat frequently in their jobs,” says Darwent. “I wanted to create something ergonomically profiled to alleviate compression forces and discomfort when kneeling, promoting good spinal posture while giving users the flexibility to move and vary their position.”
The product has been trialled in schools, clinics, exhibitions and conferences, and will be ready for commercial availability in the spring.
Another device, for mobility rehabilitation, has been developed by inventor Keith Toule. He came up with the idea for the Lincoln REDCAM (Rehabilitative Exercise Device/Controlled Active Movement) after he had a total knee replacement. Frustrated by the slowness of his recovery, he invented the device to enable a faster and less painful recovery after leg injury or surgery.
The instrument is a 2ft (0.6m) cylindrical plastic tube with a pedal mechanism that enables the strength of the good leg to be used in order to help exercise the weaker limb. Because it can be moved to the side of a bed, convalescents can start exercising earlier than they could with conventional static equipment in a remote location.
In tests, improved mobility, stamina and circulation were reported, as well as a reduction in swelling and joint pain. The device could also be used to treat degenerative muscular disease, post-heart-surgery rehabilitation, sports injuries or age-related complaints. Twenty-three of these units have been sold on the basis of testimonials from patients and clinicians. Toule aims to get the device clinically trialled within the NHS later this year.
Making it work
The work of the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet is an example of what can be achieved when the right help is available to people with good ideas.
“There is an abundance of good ideas; but turning them into successful products or services is a long, hard road”, says Dr Ian Barr, director of the Healthcare and Bioscience iNet. “Individuals working alone or in small companies rarely foresee all the challenges that lie ahead – let alone ways of overcoming them. They need know-how, time and money to succeed, but even the simplest of ideas can make a big impact with the right people and support network around them.
“iNet helps people to make their personal innovation journey successfully by broadening their understanding of what is involved and helping them to identify barriers to progress and options for overcoming them. It’s also able to provide some funding support to eligible businesses in the East Midlands.”
Development of iNet
The Healthcare and Bioscience iNet was set up by the East Midlands Development Agency in 2008, with additional funding from the European Regional Development Fund. Based in BioCity – the UK’s fastest-growing bioscience business incubator – the iNet’s specialist team has used its advantageous location and skills to bring together businesses, colleges, universities, public sector representatives and individuals with a shared interest in building a healthier economy.